24 July 2008

A total change of perspective

  • Jul 24, 2008

A total change of perspective

What an experience these last few days have been!

So, from where I left off...

I did not end up learning to sail that day, as my friend / instructor had last minute craziness.
However, I actually didn't feel very disappointed because, in a way, now I get to enjoy the feeling of looking forward to it for another week (or perhaps because I'm scared of falling into the cold wet bay - which is apparently inevitable)
With the unexpected free time I did the laundry, the dishes, a thorough work out (I am getting close to being able to clean and jerk my own body weight), proof-read the blog from the night before, checked my PO box, I can't remember all what else.

As night approached, after that horrible experience the night before of trying and failing to sleep, of spending hours awake in the silent dark, alone with my thoughts a second time, I decided that instead I would not even try to sleep.
This time I took the opposite route, modofinil and caffeine pills and some primeatene just to jump start it, cranked up the music, turned on every light in the house, and did some exercising.

With hours to kill, I looked up an internet forum I found months ago when I was trying to learn more about the sort of psychological issues I suspected my wife of having related to her traumatic childhood, and how it was likely to play out in our marriage.

This time though, instead of looking with a focus on figuring out how to best improve our relationship, I was just looking for general validation and emotional support from people who had dealt with the exact same issues themselves.  There are many post both from people who have attachment problems of their own as well as spouses and former spouses of them.

I signed up this time.
I read a lot of posts that felt very familiar.  I read questions I had been asking, feelings I was feeling.  I started writing myself, wrote in detail about my experiences, I offered advice, or more often just sympathy and understanding, when a particular story resonated most deeply.  Within hours I was getting responses back to my own posts, ones which felt relevant, helpful, and always validating.

When I realized that anyone else online had surely gone to bed, and that I had the most recent post in the top 6 threads, I finally closed the computer.  It was daylight by then.  I spent the day variously: pacing around, lying on the floor, considering returning some work calls and deciding not to, lying awake in bed half trying to sleep, checking for new emails or friends online or how many hits my blog had gotten, taking in the laundry I had left on the line over night, and thinking thinking thinking about all that I had learned and how it applied to my past, how it changed the context of my memories.

Occasionally I could not tell if I was having tiny hallucinations

When I would lay in bed, every single time I heard a motorcycle with loud pipes go by on the freeway, for just one instant the thought would flash through my mind that maybe it was her, maybe she was coming over and would tell me that she was willing to try harder after all, that she realized how important I was to her.  Just for one brief moment.
I didn't really think it was true.
First of all, I was already fully aware that that day may NEVER come.
Not only was I aware of it intellectually, but it was starting to sink in, for the first time ever, emotionally as well.
(Some people I read about had experiences like ours, except over marriages that lasted one or two decades.  Some had had multiple separations and reconciliations.  Some had been in individual or couples therapy, or both. There were some success stories, but there were also many that were not.)
Second of all, I knew that even if that day did ever come, it wasn't going to happen in 1 day (wait, no, 2 days, just because I didn't sleep doesn't make it the same day).  From experience I know she can go at least 3 months while blocking out any positive feelings or memories of me. 
Besides for that, even if she did have a change of heart, she would not have made it known, out of wanting to respect my boundaries and not hurt me any more than she already had.  She can be very caring and selfless in that way at times. 
(Did I make it sound like she never was?  I think that makes for a very poor reflection on me.  I should never communicate the bad things without balance, or at least context.  She is, for the most part, very nurturing and giving, sometimes to the point where she needs to be reminded to take care of herself too, reassured that having her own needs doesn't make her selfish)
So, obviously there was a roughly zero chance that she was going to be showing up
then again, there have been a few times where she surprised me that way
And that made me feel the chances were roughly zero, not zero exactly, and that was enough to make me think "maybe that's her" for one moment, every single time.  And I was thinking about this, about how irrational and obsessive I was being, and somehow being aware of it actually made me feel it even more each time.  Which may not have been such a big deal, except it turns out there are a whole lot of motorcycles that go by this stretch of freeway, far more than I had ever noticed before.  Several per minute.
The ones who took the exit of course were particularly hard to ignore.
Then at one point there was one which just seemed to keep being there while at the same time moving closer, but never actually getting closer.  It was distressing, because I just kept waiting for it to go away - once it passed, it was proof that it wasn't her, but this one wouldn't go away.  I started visualizing her bike coming down the driveway, matching the sound I heard to the fantasy.  I started to grow agitated and anxious, my hands started actually shaking a little, because I knew it wasn't her, but I just had to hear it drive past and keep going so I could know that it wasn't - but it was still there.  It didn't sound idle, it was moving; I started to think that it was a hallucination, that I had been thinking about the real bikes so much that now I was just hearing them constantly when finally I realized it wasn't a motorcycle at all, it was a small low flying plane, and eventually it did fade off into the distance.

When I got in bed, it was never for more than a few minutes.  Same with anything else I did, all day.  Between the extreme emotions, the lack of sleep, and the mild stimulants, I was restless and antsy as well as shaking an awful lot.  I managed to force myself to eat (a handful of raw greenbeans and bitter lettuce, followed by a few spoonfuls of ice cream - finishing that meal took up a good 15 minutes).
I noticed that she had removed me from her internet friends list, yet, interestingly, had not blocked me from chat nor unsubscribed from my blog.  This is not much to go on, but I got the feeling that maybe she had de-internet-friended me in symbolic support of my request to end contact, but she was still interested in knowing how I was doing, and so maybe she wasn't putting up that wall of defensiveness at all this time. 
That was some how comforting to know (or rather, to suspect)

When I would check the computer, sometimes I would notice she was online...
just one click of the mouse, I could reach out to her
so easy, so minor
I mean, she has been a constant part of my life from before I even moved out of my mother's house.  We transitioned into independent adulthood together, as a couple, and the most natural thing in the world is to just connect with her, ask her what shes been up to, tell her something I'm thinking
but, I was the one who was making this choice, right?  I am doing it for me.  She can not be careful of my feelings, so I have to keep her away from me.
And I avoided the temptation, but I knew the fact that the temptation was so strong must say something about me

Some of the things I read, which echoed things I had felt, were written not by a spouse of someone with an attachment disorder, but by a person with an attachment disorder themselves.

This was not the first time the idea had occurred to me
After all, I had very abnormally strong infatuations on random girls throughout grade school, I had never felt particularly connected to my family, I rarely formed close friendships and had little desire for them, and clearly how I felt about Aileen was obsessive -

Don't say that!
Its Love!
Its Real!

why are you getting so defensive?

that totally invalidates my feelings, it denies that my love for her is based on her
it implies all sorts of terrible things
that line of reasoning leads to total disillusionment...

don't be so dramatic
its over anyway, so there is no point
you can stop now...
just admit that your feeling for her are obsessive

...I don't want to hear...

Hey! Calm down... look, granted, there is, and always was, a real base.  I'm not denying that.  I'm not taking that away from us.  If we didn't have any type of abnormal attachment styles, I'm sure we would still have picked the exact same person.
I'm not saying the love itself is not fully genuine.  I am only saying the degree of the feeling is obsessive. 
Think about it: you don't believe you could live with out her, do you? 

Well...  no

You feel that you don't just want her, but that you need her?

I... I... yes I do.

But that is not true, in an objective sense, is it?

I feel that it is.

But is it really?

I don't know...

Yes you do.

ok.  ok.  you're right.

(in case it is not obvious, this conversation took place inside my head, between my intellect and my feeling.  And it wasn't a literal back and forth, this is just a metaphor of the realization and the resistance to it)

There is a word for that:  Dependence.  I am so independent - right?  Never ask for help, living on my own, running my own business, don't need friends; ah, but...
I need her
Isn't that love? Everyone needs someone!
yes.  true.  but not everyone feels that their entire life becomes permanently devoid of all meaning if that one person is not by their side.

Just look at my blog from last month.  Or last night...  I can not understand all the people around me.  Like I said to my therapist last week, sometimes I have to be willing to consider that, if everyone else in the world is a certain way, and I am different - maybe its me. 
In most ways I am perfectly happy to do things my own way when it is actually better.  Common and normal don't mean healthy or ideal.  However, just because that applies in some ways, doesn't mean I get a free pass on my every neurosis.

and I look at the summaries of the types again: Anxious-preoccupied attachment.
that doesn't sound at all like me, does it?  Sounds like the opposite of me.  ok, but now replace the word "others" with "my partner".  Spot on.

But wait, I only felt there was never enough intimacy because my partner has such much trouble with intimacy.
Its hard to say just how much was each, because they were both factors for sure; my abnormally high desire for intimacy and her abnormally low desire for it (well, more accurately perhaps, fear and rejection of intimacy. Not a low desire - but from my side, it felt the same)

When I first learned about reactive attachment disorder, saw how strongly she fit the risk factors, the behaviors, and the feeling and interpretations that went along with it, I went back and reconsidered every single conflict we had ever had, and it was obvious how and why we had misunderstood and misinterpreted each other and how our lack of understanding of the deeper psychological issues had us blaming each other personally for reactions that were totally to be expected.
(She has gone, at various times in our life, between dismissive/avoidant and fearful/avoidant, both of which, although still under the same general category of reactive attachment, have totally different, sometimes opposite, manifestations from anxious/preoccupied)
Now that I saw that I was not the standard of normalcy I had generally assumed myslef to be, I had to go back through everything again, to see how my own unhealthiness helped shape things, and contributed to our conflicts.

If you have a lot of time to waste, and are really bored, and you don't mind losing a lot of respect for me, you can learn far more about my experiences over the last 7 years than you could ever possibly have wanted to know, by reading my post on the partners of adults with attachment disorder message forum.

One thing I want to point out though, is that what I wrote is very disproportionately negative, and not a fair reflection of the past.  I was choosing to focus on the conflicts and mistakes and hard times, to explore why they happened, how they were possibly interrelated, and perhaps think about how they might have been avoided (or more importantly, avoided in the future).
I was giving the examples of my experience to the other posters, because for me, it felt a little better every time I read something I could relate to, and maybe someone would read mine and be able to relate, and feel validated themselves.
I was trying to look back with enough understanding to show her side of each conflict as being just as understandable as my own, even though I could not understand her side at the time it happened.
And I was also just purging my brain of bad memories, as they lose much of the original bad feelings when they become simply a list of things which happened, in order, a long time ago, just a record of fact.

In reality, there was an immense amount of positivity and warmth and fun and shared experiences and mutual feelings. I very often felt totally safe and secure with her and I often felt that life was just unbearably wonderful and that the future held only better promises to come.  There was so much adventure, sometimes things fell into place so perfectly, and she was so unbelievably beautiful, that it sometimes truly felt totally unrealistic, impossibly good, and I often wondered how I could have been so lucky as to have found her, and to fall into this crazy-fun life.

I don't mention much of any of that in this post.


 I was well aware all along that I was not going to be able to stick with my decision to end all contact with her (I even told her that at the time)
By this time, I began to feel that it was ok that I wasn't capable of sticking with it.  At least I knew why, I knew that it wasn't normal or healthy, but I also knew it wasn't just me.

And, if I have come to terms with the fact that I will not be able to stick with it, is there really any reason to delay? 
I have to begin to recognize when my motivation to contact her is because I like her, I feel comfortable around her and enjoy her company;
vs when my motivation is because I feel that I need to be in contact with her in order to cope with existence.
And I need to act on the former, and find another way to deal with the latter (or at the very least, be honest with both her and myself when that is my real reason)

Earlier in the day, it was the anxiousness that kept drawing me to click open the chat window.  I didn't even have anything to say. And I fought it successfully, and I am glad for that.
Now, however, I did have something to share, I wanted to communicate with her these new things I had discovered, because she is my friend and long-time confidant.
Just as it is important for me to learn what is unhealthy dependence, it is equally important not to throw out the baby with the bath water, and give up everything, as valuable as it is.

And so I went ahead and wrote to her.

My dramatic and devastatingly difficult ultimate decision to permanently end all contact with her lasted only about 2 days

A total change of perspective:


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